“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” Orhan Pamuk
We used to have two cats, Stones and Sebastian, but we lost Sebastian, who was our big fat orange cat.
We were out with friends on a Friday night and when we came home the first thing that sruck me was that the whole house smelled like pee. It looked like a massacre had happened downstairs in the den.
We let the dogs out and Stones, our smaller cat, was at the baby gate frantically trying to get out, too.
“What the hell went on?” I asked Brian.
In the backyard Nanook, our Husky, was all over Gretel, our German Shepherd.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God,” I said. “Gretel’s hurt, Gretel’s hurt.”
“No, no, no, she’s fine,” Brian said, after checking her out.
We went back in, down to the den, and Brian found Sebastian.
“Julie, call the hospital,” he said.
He scooped up Sebastian, who was meowing and screaming, wrapped him up as snugly as he could in a blanket, and we drove him to the Animal Hospital.
“He’s not too badly hurt,” the vet said. “Although, I see he’s wheezing.”
“He always wheezes,” I said.
“He’s a little heavy, too.”
“That’s why we call him Fatbastian.”
He was our cat because former friends of ours had one day asked us to watch him for a few weeks. They were moving to Chicago.
“Sure,” I said, like a stupid, gullible idiot.
“Do you think they’re coming back?” I asked Brian ten years later.
“No, the cat is ours.”
What we didn’t know, while we were talking in the waiting room of the Animal Hospital, was that the vet had taken blood from our cat and was having it analyzed. When we were ready to leave, thinking Sebastian was going to spend the night in care, one of the aides came back.
“The doctor wants to see you in the exam room,” she said.
Nothing good ever comes from those words, I thought.
“You need to put him down,” said the vet.
“Why? You just said he was fine.”
“I took his sugar and it’s over 420. He’s 13-years-old,” said the vet. “You should just put him down. He’s going to take a turn for the worse, much sooner than later.”
What happened that night while we were out was that diabetes finally caught up with Sebastian. Gretel attacked him when he started having seizures. She tried to take Sebastian out. It’s a natural instinct with dogs. If they see you are lame, or sick, or whatever, they will try to put you out of your misery.
Our personal vet, who does house calls, never told us Sebastian had diabetes. She just said he was fat and we should put him on canned food. But, when we did he refused to eat it. He ate all the dried dog food instead, because it’s more fatty.
Gretel had once attacked another dog we had rescued, too, a dog who turned out to have cancer. Gretel kept smelling her and smelling her for weeks and weeks.
“Let me help you out,” is what Gretel said one day, and tried to end her life there and then.
We had to get the other dog sewn up.
Gretel now knows, after that episode, and after Sebastian, we don’t eat other cats and dogs. I’ve made that plain to Gretel.
When my sister Patty lived in West Park the lady next door was always afraid of Wellington, Patty’s big Rottweiler. One afternoon the dog slipped into her backyard, and was sniffing around, and she spotted him. She started screaming and carrying on. Wellington thought she was in trouble and ran right over. He turned his butt to her, forcefully backed her up against the side of the garage, and pinned her there.
“What beast is trying to hurt you? I’ll protect you!” That’s what Wellington was trying to say.
Patty heard the noise and rushed next door.
“Your dog is attacking me!”
“He’s protecting you, you idiot,” said Patty, after sizing up what she was seeing. “Although you don’t deserve it. A cat would push you down the stairs.”
Patty patted Wellington on the head as she brought him back to the house.
“You poor dumb dog, you’re the beast she thinks is attacking her.”
“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF.”
The first dog I ever rescued once I was grown up and living in an efficiency apartment on Lake Road was a Rottweiler who was running around Patty’s West Park house. It was winter and snowing and cold. My dad and I rescued it. It took calmness and patience and luring to get the dog to come over to me.
I lay on the ground in the snow until the dog finally came to me. I petted him and he followed us back to Patty’s house. We called a shelter and later took him there.
I always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought I was going to have twenty-three of them.
Then I met Brian and his brother Freddie the Deviler. They rescued dogs and after Brian and I got married, and after we left Freddie behind in Little Italy, we did that, too.
We’ve rescued so many dogs that people now ask us to find them dogs.
When God puts the love of an animal, or the love of something, in your head, you’re going to work with it. It’s there, in my head, and it’s in my heart, too. I cannot to this day turn away.
Someone posted a picture on Facebook of a dog chained up and all alone in Atlanta. I asked Brian, are you ready to take a ride to Georgia? I was ready to go down south. Chaining a dog up all by himself, all alone at the end of a chain, is the worst punishment you can give a dog. You can hit him and he will come back to you. But, the worst thing you can do is separate a dog from people.
They just want affection.
When I have to send my dogs downstairs for a timeout they will slowly creep back up the basement stairs and sit at the top of them. I try to ignore them. They look like the worst thing in the world has just happened. They would probably howl if they didn’t know full well they’re not allowed to.
It can be heartbreaking.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.